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I received a terrarium for Christmas last year and, I'm embarrassed to say, am just getting around to setting it up now. It's got an elegant design, and I've worked out how I want the inside laid out, but could use some help figuring out how to best water the plants. Other suggestions, thoughts, or cautions on just about any aspect are also welcome though. I've gardened a good bit in my life but I'm new to indoor projects like this. And money is a little tight right now so I really only got one shot at making this work.


For informational purposes, the terrarium is square and approximately 16"x16" (and some 20" or more high). It's completely enclosed by glass within a wood frame, and the top has two sliding glass halves for controlling humidity. I'm building myself a little waterfall that will feed into a stream leading down to a pond, where an intake pulls the water back to dump into the waterfall.

This gift was specifically meant to help me get back into carnivorous plants and I plan to place them throughout the terrarium in 4" pots (for easier removal for dormancy). At this time I don't expect to have any animals in the terrarium, instead using it as more of a cat-safe CP garden, but am not totally against the idea of adding a lizard or turtle or something in the future. But I know nothing about them yet and it isn't something I'm bothering to think much about (other than to avoid design gaffes that could limit my options in the future).


The layout of the terrarium is sketched below from a top down view, followed by a detailed top-down of the waterfall (numbers represent height). The waterfall will reside against a back wall and sit upon a few inches of soil. The waterfall pump will sit under the upper lake with tubing running alongside the stream to the pond, where water is recycled back through. The pots will be buried up to their lips in soil to hopefully hide them from regular viewing. Lighting will be provided by some growlights fitting into the top lattice, as well as possibly some lighting in the waterfall and stream (not sure how to accomplish this yet).

terrarium.png


terrarium_waterfall.png



My main holdup at this point is that I would very much like to automate maintenance as much as possible, as I currently work two jobs and have many parental and other responsibilities leading me to sometimes neglect my hobbies. With moving water flowing across the length of the terrarium, and an available water pump, I feel like I should be able to tap into that somehow to water the plants, possibly using some sort of drip system pulled from the main line. That way I would just need to refill the pond every few days with distilled water as I see it getting low.

Again, though, I'm completely green in this area. So that's why I was hoping to get some ideas from you guys. Am I on the right track? Are there spiffy little tools designed to help accomplish this very thing? Are there other methods I should be considering instead of drip lines? Or will this whole system end up being more trouble than it's worth.


As an aside, I also welcome thoughts on the plants I've chosen. I've had D Intermedia and D Capensis before and loved them; hardy little guys. The Sarrs will be a pretty new experience for me (I've mostly had VFTs and Sundews); I'd like to find a variety that will stay relatively small so as not to outgrow the pot or terrarium. D Scorpioides may not be perfectly suited to this environ, but I hope it will work. I've wanted one since I first got into CPs and started visiting Terraforums back in, I believe, the late 90s...it's my little CP fantasy. =P

As for the environment, we live in Pittsburgh, PA. This will probably be residing near a East facing window getting an hour or two of direct early morning sunlight, but mostly indirect sunlight. The house is kept at between 66 and 72 degrees throughout the year (generally warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer for weird medical reasons). Humidity in the house is relatively low, but the terrarium has a sliding top I can use to maintain internal humidity, especially with the waterfall in there. Some grow lights will be placed on top the terrarium shining directly down, probably on a 14-16 hour/day timer.

I will probably try to handle my plants' dormancy using my garage; winter temps in there can go below freezing, but I can always do the dormancy a little early or late to take advantage of the milder weather. As the plants will all be in pots it should be easy to remove them for dormancy or other care. Refrigeration is a possibility, but with two kids I'm not sure how safe it would be.
 

Jcal

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I'm having a hard time trying to envision this. It's it really clever and advanced, but if simple and carefree is what you want then I would skip the pond and drip system and just use the tray method.
 
Joined
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Alright, first off- not making any assumptions about your background or knowledge- if you are looking for something low maintenance I think terrariums are not the way to go- at least not real humid ones. Not properly maintained, they can quickly become breeding grounds for all kinds of nasty stuff. My thought- just get some good air flow in there and clean stuff up regularly- but they will require your attention and maintenance (YMMV). Running water is a good idea vs. standing water, I would be inclined to add an airstone in there somewhere but that would likely be overkill on oxygenating the water. Seems with the water fall you have sufficient passive oxygenation. If it were me, I would put a small circulating fan in there- even if the terrarium has vents.
Alright, had to say that stuff. I do think it is a cool idea- I am actually in the process of designing a CP terrarium setup myself for Utricularias and Genliseas (so I am actually taking notes here).

Given your dimensions and the fact that you want stuff to stay small and/or in place, your only real candidates in terms of sarrs is Sarracenia psittacina and the Sarracenia purpurea complex. S. purpurea/Rosea would probably take up quite a bit of room (more than your 4" budget at least) eventually but you could probably keep it in there for a while if you get them small.
I think D. scorpiodes would be cool, certainly one I would consider but do not let it stay super wet- not like a D. intermedia.

Alright, so I have bounced around a bit here. The drip idea is a cool idea, I am not saying it is not possible but I am having a hard time visualizing how that would work in practice while still being low maintenance. I am not sure which would be better as both have their challenges but I would think about a wick system as well. If you use a wick system you do not have to worry so much about flow rates and so forth- however you do have to worry more about bacteria.

I dunno, its an interesting problem- does not seem trivial. I know there are books out there on vivaria/terraria I would be inclined to check some of them out. Might post your question to a reptile forum as well (thinking more about the carefree maintenance and water delivery stuff- less about the CPs).
 
Joined
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Thank you both for your thoughts.

I agree that it sounds like the drip system would be a lot of trouble and difficult to setup. However, I've made assumptions like that before in areas that I'm ignorant in and found myself completely wrong, so I thought I'd see what others thought. :)

The terrarium is already purchased, and I'm pretty set on having buried pots and the waterfall and all that. It's not necessarily that I'm looking for low maintenance, as much as I'd like it to be forgetfulness proof. I could take care of it perfectly for a full year, then one 100-hour workweek when I forget to water...I figure if I can get some level of insurance against that it would be well worth it. But I think the aesthetic takes a high priority, even superseding this maintenance/insurance issue.


I would be inclined to add an airstone in there somewhere but that would likely be overkill on oxygenating the water. Seems with the water fall you have sufficient passive oxygenation
I've had fishtanks before and understand the importance of oxygenation of the water in them. Would this also be relevant in a terrarium? Or is this just a concern in case I decide to add some form of reptile in the future?


If it were me, I would put a small circulating fan in there- even if the terrarium has vents.
I hadn't considered this, but will see what I can find. Maybe a little computer fan could be mounted pretty easily; they're nice and thin and easy to hide.


Given your dimensions and the fact that you want stuff to stay small and/or in place, your only real candidates in terms of sarrs is Sarracenia psittacina and the Sarracenia purpurea complex
Thanks for the suggestion. I'll begin researching those over the next few days as I can. I had a S Purpurea years ago, though the details are a little fuzzy. I'll have to see if I can find my old emails to jog my memory.


Alright, so I have bounced around a bit here. The drip idea is a cool idea, I am not saying it is not possible but I am having a hard time visualizing how that would work in practice while still being low maintenance. I am not sure which would be better as both have their challenges but I would think about a wick system as well. If you use a wick system you do not have to worry so much about flow rates and so forth- however you do have to worry more about bacteria.
I've never heard of a wick system. I assume a string of absorbent material is placed with one end in the water and the other near the plant, allowing the water to climb and the rate to be automatically controlled by the destination saturation? I'll have to do some research on it.

I've also considered a simple funnel system. A funnel at the top of the terrarium that feeds into a six-way splitter, with a hose that then leads down to each plant. It would still require manual watering, but only one quick pour at the top of the tank instead of reaching in for each plant. I could handle that before work or at lunch much more easily. However, trying to hide the six tubes running down the tank would be difficult and the aesthetic is important to me. Any thoughts on this?

Alternately, is there any sort of system designed with a pump that fires at a scheduled time and runs for 5-30 seconds?



Thanks again for all the help. It's a daunting project, especially after being away for a few years. Having fellow enthusiasts around to offer support makes a world of difference. :)
 
Joined
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I agree that it sounds like the drip system would be a lot of trouble and difficult to setup. However, I've made assumptions like that before in areas that I'm ignorant in and found myself completely wrong, so I thought I'd see what others thought. :)
Hey, I respect that completely! It never hurts to ask and never hurts to try- its not like you did not do your homework before asking :)

The terrarium is already purchased, and I'm pretty set on having buried pots and the waterfall and all that. It's not necessarily that I'm looking for low maintenance, as much as I'd like it to be forgetfulness proof. I could take care of it perfectly for a full year, then one 100-hour workweek when I forget to water...I figure if I can get some level of insurance against that it would be well worth it. But I think the aesthetic takes a high priority, even superseding this maintenance/insurance issue.
I would imagine that would be doable.

I've had fishtanks before and understand the importance of oxygenation of the water in them. Would this also be relevant in a terrarium? Or is this just a concern in case I decide to add some form of reptile in the future?
I think that was just me thinking too hard, too late at night. The reason for the air stones is to oxygenate the water to prevent anaerobic water conditions and to help (in theory) get more oxygen to the root zones but with the whole waterfall setup, I think you are fine.

I hadn't considered this, but will see what I can find. Maybe a little computer fan could be mounted pretty easily; they're nice and thin and easy to hide.
That's what comes to my mind. Just to keep stuff moving around a bit.

I've never heard of a wick system. I assume a string of absorbent material is placed with one end in the water and the other near the plant, allowing the water to climb and the rate to be automatically controlled by the destination saturation? I'll have to do some research on it.
Yeah, now that I have had a few cups of coffee that idea seems less appealing.

I've also considered a simple funnel system. A funnel at the top of the terrarium that feeds into a six-way splitter, with a hose that then leads down to each plant. It would still require manual watering, but only one quick pour at the top of the tank instead of reaching in for each plant. I could handle that before work or at lunch much more easily. However, trying to hide the six tubes running down the tank would be difficult and the aesthetic is important to me. Any thoughts on this?
Its interesting but with less than 10 plants how much time would that really save you? Plus, there is something to be said for taking a moment to visually inspect your plants each day so you can catch problems while they are nuisances rather than crises. Do both at the same time.

Alternately, is there any sort of system designed with a pump that fires at a scheduled time and runs for 5-30 seconds?
Those should be easy to "build". Find an electrical timer that allows you to dial in the time intervals you want (Home Depot, etc...), hook it up to a submersible pump(Hydroponics store) in a bucket of RO water or something, use drip irrigation/sprinkler line(Home Depot) to create the indoor plumbing. Home Depot and your local hydroponics store are your friends on that one. I am not personally aware of a light timer that allows you dial all the way down to seconds but I am sure they are out there. Personally, I would be more inclined to water for a minute or so, perhaps once or twice a day at a low flow rate. That can be controlled both with the pressure of your pump and/or using emitters with a known GPH rating.

Thanks again for all the help. It's a daunting project, especially after being away for a few years. Having fellow enthusiasts around to offer support makes a world of difference. :)
This hobby is 10 times more fun when you go all nerd over it. I am working on a couple of geeky projects myself.
 

Wire Man

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I would consider revising the plant list. Sarracenia and VFTs require winter dormancy. This is very difficult to do with a terrarium. I would stick with pygmy Drosera. Terrestrial orchids would work, too.
 

DragonsEye

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First and foremost, I "tip my hat to you" for the time in planning this out before jumping into it. Not only can the planning ("dreaming" :D ) be fun, but it can also help you avoid a lot of issues later down the road.

My first comment is related to how much "stuff" you plan on having in there -- I think you may be underestimating the amount of space things will take-up. From personal experience, I can tell you that the amount of real-estate you have to work with disappears amazingly fast as you start putting things in. Be very aware of that as you plan this out.

Is the terr sealed so the wooden frame will not be exposed to the moisture in the terr? (I would assume it came that way but bring it up as assumptions can be dangerous things.)

Grow lights are typically more expensive then they are worth. Daylight spectrum cfls tend to be cheaper, last longer, and do the job as well. Though they are MUCH more expensive, at least initially, LEDs have reached the point of being useful for growing plants. However, do not just run off to Lowes or some other BBS -- the LEDs they carry will NOT do the job.

PC fans can indeed be used to circulate air in the tank, and they are quite easy to hook up and last a surprisingly long time.

Make sure in your water feature design that any and all filters as well as the pump is easily accessible without needing to dismantle everything. In particular, I would suggest (if you haven't already planned on doing so) making the waterfall up of several sections in such a manner that you can remove a piece or pieces while reaching in from the front of the terr to gain access to the pump.

With moving water, airstones should be unnecessary.

I would worry about the Sarrs getting too big too fast as well as possible issues with etiolation.

I know MistKing has timers that go down to the second for use with their misting systems. Might check them out.

If you are planning on wet boggy conditions, you might try a false bottom, allowing the water from the waterfall to run down into the "pond" and from there into the surrounding soil. The false bottom would be necessary at that point to allow the water to drain down into the bottom of the tank to be drawn up and recycled back through the waterfall.



 
Joined
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Thanks for all the advice. First, a few responses, then I have a few more questions to bug you guys with. :)

Its interesting but with less than 10 plants how much time would that really save you? Plus, there is something to be said for taking a moment to visually inspect your plants each day so you can catch problems while they are nuisances rather than crises. Do both at the same time.
Well, it's not so much a matter of time, as it is a matter of remembering, or even time on particular days. There are days (even weeks) where I wakeup before the sun rises and fall into bed at midnight, and my whole schedule falls apart if I so much as waste a few seconds walking instead of running throughout the day. During those times I wouldn't have the opportunity to spend 5 minutes watering six plants even if I did remember. Though I do plan to check them daily 95% of the time, I just need some insurance against that other 5%.

Those should be easy to "build". Find an electrical timer that allows you to dial in the time intervals you want (Home Depot, etc...), hook it up to a submersible pump(Hydroponics store) in a bucket of RO water or something, use drip irrigation/sprinkler line(Home Depot) to create the indoor plumbing. Home Depot and your local hydroponics store are your friends on that one. I am not personally aware of a light timer that allows you dial all the way down to seconds but I am sure they are out there. Personally, I would be more inclined to water for a minute or so, perhaps once or twice a day at a low flow rate. That can be controlled both with the pressure of your pump and/or using emitters with a known GPH rating.
I like this approach. I'm looking at submersible pumps now to place in a bucket under the terrarium (see image below). I'd like to run a 1/2" line from that to a 6-way splitter, then smaller lines to each plant. I've found a timer that goes down to the minute with good reviews and for a cheap price. Best of all it comes in a 2-pack, so now I have the lights covered as well. ;)

I would consider revising the plant list. Sarracenia and VFTs require winter dormancy. This is very difficult to do with a terrarium. I would stick with pygmy Drosera. Terrestrial orchids would work, too.
Thanks for the suggestion. I'm actually planning to remove them for wintering in my garage so the dormancy is already taken into consideration.

Is the terr sealed so the wooden frame will not be exposed to the moisture in the terr? (I would assume it came that way but bring it up as assumptions can be dangerous things.)
Yes, it is. And the 'cap' is coated metal so it shouldn't be in danger from escaping humidity.

Grow lights are typically more expensive then they are worth. Daylight spectrum cfls tend to be cheaper, last longer, and do the job as well. Though they are MUCH more expensive, at least initially, LEDs have reached the point of being useful for growing plants. However, do not just run off to Lowes or some other BBS -- the LEDs they carry will NOT do the job.
I would like to do two daylight CFLs, plus one LED growlight (see below for reasoning). However, I'm having trouble finding a good ballast. The terrarium is 16 inches wide, and the top tapers. Because of this I may be stuck attaching 12" tubes instead. Any suggestions on where to find the LED growlights? How small can they be?

Make sure in your water feature design that any and all filters as well as the pump is easily accessible without needing to dismantle everything. In particular, I would suggest (if you haven't already planned on doing so) making the waterfall up of several sections in such a manner that you can remove a piece or pieces while reaching in from the front of the terr to gain access to the pump.
I was originally hoping to, but I don't think it's in the cards. The structure is so small, and with where I had to hide the pump I think access is going to be limited to underneath. :(

If you are planning on wet boggy conditions, you might try a false bottom, allowing the water from the waterfall to run down into the "pond" and from there into the surrounding soil. The false bottom would be necessary at that point to allow the water to drain down into the bottom of the tank to be drawn up and recycled back through the waterfall.
This 'feels' like a complicated and difficult setup to me. I'm not sure if it really is, but I don't think it's something I'm comfortable with at this point. I think I've decided on an alternate method instead…


I've decided to go with an inline pump pulling water from a bucket under the terrarium for watering. I ran some calculations and realized that the plants would need so much water that they could run the falls dry in a day or two, risking damage to the waterfall pump. This new approach allows me to keep much more water available to the watering pump too. I just gotta figure out a way to keep the cats out of it ;). I am having trouble finding a splitter, though. I need something to turn a 1/2" water line into six smaller (maybe 1/4") lines, and that's proving way more difficult to find than I had anticipated. Could anyone suggest somewhere good to look?

My second question was prompted by another thread talking about growlights. One poster mentioned that although LED growlights don't generally work aesthetically because of the blue/red hue, they can work great at night to simulate moonlight. So I was thinking of setting up some normal CFL growlights to run 14-16 hours/day, then an LED to run either the other 8-10 or just continuously. This will make the terrarium look cool at night (and there are lots of people walking around at night in our house), and as a bonus will give the plants a little more light. The question is: will 24 hour/day lighting cause harm? Do CPs require a day/night cycle?


I thought I'd post some pictures as I move through each step for anyone who's interested in the progression. Maybe it will help others trying to do something similar in the future. Here is the styrofoam skeleton before I started digging away at it to make it look more organic:

terrarium_phase1_1.jpg


terrarium_phase1_2.jpg
 

Plant Planter

The Most Uncreative Name in the History of Ever
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Holy...! That is one heck of a terrarium you're planning there. It sounds like you've got enough stuff planned out to make your own miniature ecosystem!

Well, a quick note that I'm sure someone whose post I have not read has stated already, if the water is moving, there should be no problems with algae and other nasty things growing in it. Your plan doesn't say you're planning on putting any Utricularia or Aldrovanda in it.
 
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Well, I promised I'd make updates as I went, so here's the next progress report. :)

It's been a busy couple weeks between work and family, so I haven't made as much progress as I like, but there are a few pictures below.

The first two are after I attached a tube guide to the back of the waterfall, and tore away and cut away pieces of Styrofoam to make the shape more organic. After that I used Great Stuff Expanding Foam, which is essentially an expanding sealant but that I used for aesthetic purposes. This was sprayed along the tops of most of the ridges to create a more rounded and organic shape and get away from the sharp edges that are inevitable with just Styrofoam. I was a little scared of the stuff after reading all the warnings, but I did it outside, upwind, with lots of safety equipment, and was having a great time with it by the end. Working with it was like a game; anything you did with the trigger took about 30 seconds to work its way to the end of the spraytube.

The last picture is after two coats of grout. The grout is being used as both a base sealant for the wet areas and as a smoothing (and coloring) agent for the rest of the structure. The first few coats are white, but I'll be adding grey (and maybe some red) coloring for the last one or two. Then it's on to painting (maybe), spray sealant, and silicone for the ponds.

Unfortunately, I had to remove the tube guide before grouting as I tried placing the waterfall in the terrarium and it didn't fit. Turns out I cut a little tiny bit too big on each section and the whole thing ended up being about 1/2" longer than planned. Meanwhile, my initial measurements for the terrarium were for the outside. I forgot to include the depth of the glass, and the base is a little smaller than the upper areas. I thought I had a good inch of clearance with the tubeguide. Meanwhile I find that it fits snuggly (tightly) even without. New plan is to have the pump push water through the bottom of the upper lake instead of using the outlet cave I created; oh well...

I'm finding it very difficult to get grout into all the nooks and crannies as the lakes are very small and relatively deep. I'm concerned that I may need to redo the whole thing. :(


Here's a somewhat unrelated question for you guys. Any suggestions on feeding? I'd love to be able to provide live food for a variety of reasons. On the other hand, I'm not sure I'm up to chasing live flies around the house like I did as a teen =P. I considered purchasing feeder crickets, but they seem a little big and I'd be concerned about them reproducing and taking over the tank (though there's no food in there for them I guess). Is there a better method? Are there feeder insects one can buy that don't fly (so they won't get out)?


I'll post again in a week or two.

terrarium_phase2_1.jpg

terrarium_phase2_2.jpg

terrarium_phase3_1.jpg
 
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So this took me a bit longer than I expected. My computer went down and life got otherwise busy, but I've still made some slow progress.


First, some pictures of the waterfall. After several more coats of grout I hit the whole thing with a couple coats of textured indoor spraypaint. This was followed by about 5 or 6 coats of clear acrylic to act as a general sealant, though I still have a couple tubes of silicone coming in to use in the water areas. I tested it with just the acrylic anyway and had only a few leaks, so I'm taking that as a good sign.

terrarium_phase4_1.jpg

terrarium_phase4_2.jpg


I have most of the components required for my auto-watering system. I talked to a sales rep at HorticultureSource.com and they recommended a air splitter that they felt would hold under the additional pressure. That will allow me to run a 1/2" line from a pump in a water bucket, up through the bottom of the terrarium where it will split into six 1/4" lines under the soil tray. These will run up the sides of the soil tray and top-water at the base of each plant. A timer will be connected to water for around 1 minute per day, I think.


Lighting is still up in the air. I cannot, for the life of me, find a hood that will fit in the space I have available. I have somewhere around 12” in length at 6” in height (or 13” in length at 5” high) and would like to keep the width to 8” or less. Most hoods clock in at 18" as a minimum. So I think I'm going to go to Home Depot, pickup a couple bases, and try to build a hood out of, I guess, aluminum foil...guess it's time to hit the internet for a tutorial on how to do that.


I'm excited about the progress, but also a little saddened by the timing. It will likely be September by the time I'm ready to order the plants in; almost time for them to go into dormancy. I'm almost tempted to wait until late winter and buy them then. Or am I remembering correctly that most plants sold online are younglings and probably okay skipping their first dormancy?
 

EntHerptology

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This is starting to look fantastic! I don't think you needed to layer the Great Stuff with quite so much sealant. A few layers of silicone is all that is necessary.
 
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The reason I put so many layers of acrylic on is because of the size of the waterfall. If this were a large project where I could see into all the nooks and crannies of shallow lakes it wouldn't' be such a problem, but as it is there are areas in the lakebeds that I can hardly reach. I ran a water test after my first coat of silicone and found that there is apparently a rather large hole at the bottom of the middle lake. This isn't surprising to me; the little nub of the lake sticking out towards the front of the waterfall is so small that I simply cannot reach into it to seal; I'm trying to do it with a paintbrush. :(

Also, the great stuff was more of a modeling agent than a sealant. I didn't really use it underwater at all.

I came across something today that may have solved a little problem I've had since the beginning. Initially I wanted to try and find tiny little LEDs to hide within the waterfall for nightime lighting, but couldn't do so. I'm not sure the best way to include them even if I had, but I now have a much better idea. Had anyone here ever worked with bio-luminescence in a terrarium setting?

I did some Googling today. There are small organisms that can live in freshwater that bio-luminesce at night in response to water movement. I'm not sure what their nutritional requirements are, though, or how they'll interact with the pump. Has anyone used them in a waterfall before? That covers nighttime lighting in a much more natural way than LEDs and will look awesome.

Assuming it will work out I'm also considering getting some bio-luminescing mushrooms. I read that you start them on a log, but do they stay there? Or am I in danger of them overrunning the whole terrarium?

I'll certainly continue to research online, but I'd love to hear tips from personal experience.

Thanks!
 
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I have no experience with the aquatic bio luminescent organisms. but as for the mushrooms i would leave those out of the terrarium, they will make short work out of any media in the terrarium, break it down. also with enough humidity they will grow on unintended areas such as your waterfall structure. also the fruiting bodies (mushrooms) are extremely short lived and will smell aweful as soon as they start to decompose
 
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It's been a while, so I thought I'd post a quick update.

This project has been set back. After applying several coats of silicone my waterfall was still leaking in many places. I had used more porous Styrofoam than I should have. I had also made the lakes very deep and thus harder to reach into; this was especially problematic in the narrow passageways of the streams. The very small, 1/2 inch jutout in the mid lake was a big problem too. This prevented me from being able to properly cover and seal. In the end, I think I'm going to need to scrap this waterfall.

I'm looking at this as a learning opportunity more than a failure, and am getting ready to try again. This time I'm going to make shallower lakes, a flatter stream, and less intricacies. I also may avoid the expanding foam; This is for financial reasons as much as anything, though the foam did close off areas that I had wanted to be open. I'm going to try thick grout in place of the foam this time.

I've decided on a few improvements too. The stream will be shortened, as I could hardly fir the waterfall into the terrarium last time (between the measurement errors, expanding foam, and additions, it was about an inch longer than expected and the terrarium was smaller than expected). I'll also run the output tube up the back of the waterfall into a cave that will spill into the upper lake; this provides better sealing and a better appearance than just fountaining the water up the bottom of the lake. I'm going to get rid of the steps, too, I think, as they just didn't look good last time; though I may just move them to a lower tier.

Updates as events warrant. :)
 
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Pittsburgh, PA
So what's the record for thread necromancy? ;)

It's been years since I received this terrarium as a gift. I've been through several iterations of design, built three failed waterfalls (from foam to 3D printing), tried two lighting setups, and still it's never really been used for much other than keeping the occasional herb or flower away from the cats. Unfortunately, it's been a rough decade, between work, kids, second job, basement reno, third job, etc. I've almost forgotten what it was like, all those years ago, when I could have and enjoy hobbies like growing CPs....

But with the kids getting ready to head off to college, my finances stabilized enough to give up nights/weekends work, and some other family responsibilities gone, I'm finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. :)

The New Design

This January I decided to start moving ahead on this project again, now that I finally have a little free time and money, and hope to have everything completed by March. I've redesigned one last time to simplify the setup, and ended up with this:

- 4" round pots sunken into a foam base, both sprayed with Rustoleum textured spray paint
- A purchased, fully built waterfall
- A 5630 LED strip hidden around the top of the terrarium, hooked into a timer so it's on from 9am until 11pm
- A 300w Bloomspect LED grow light, seated in a custom built frame, hooked into a timer set for midnight until 7am
- A set of smart plugs to allow me to control the lights and waterfall by timer or via my smartphone
- No automated watering; just a measuring cup to do it by hand

This setup has the following advantages:

- Having a professional made waterfall avoids all the pitfalls I ran into before. Building my own was fun, and I'd try it again, but not until I have more free time.
- Having pots sunken into a foam base allows me to easily remove them to handle dormancy. I have a backup pot or two with miniature decorations to put in their place when they're gone.
- Having the pots and base painted the same, to match the waterfall, helps make it look like a dirt ground, especially with some moss on top, without risk of insects, weeds, bacteria, etc.
- Running the grow light at night provides ample light, while the LED strip provides a much more visually pleasing light to enjoy the plants during the day.

I think I've decided on these plants (I'll need to choose 5):

- VFT - Austrailian Red Rossetted; I like the clumping growth
- VFT - Big Mouth
- D Capensis
- D Intermedia
- D Scorpioides
- Sarr - Scarlette Bell

Construction

So, for the part that others may be most interested in, here is the construction process:

I purchased a prebuilt waterfall. Then grabbed 3 sheets of 24"x24"x1" pink foam at Home Depot. Also ordered Axe Sickle 3.9" pots. These pots took a while to find. The tray is smaller than the top, which allows it to fit into the same size cutout. Meanwhile, the top is shelved, making it easier to keep level in a cutout designed for it. I also needed to pickup my grow light, LEDs, smart plugs, and a can of Rustoleum 'stone' spray paint and a polyurethane topcoat from Home Depot.

Shopping done, I started with the foam. First I cut the foam to fit the terrarium. Then I set the waterfall on top of the first foam board and traced it with a pen. I did the same with my pots, upside down. Using a foam cutter I cut out the waterfall and pot outlines a little bit big. This allows everything to rest on the next level of foam. I then cut out the pot outlines on the next two boards. Placing the three boards on top each other in my terrarium, with the pot saucers resting on the terrarium floor, I insured that everything fit well.







Unfortunately, the waterfall was a little tall, and hit the top of the terrarium, so I had to cut the middle foam board to let the waterfall rest on the bottom board.

Next I hit the top foam board and the tops of the pots with the paint. This worked great on the pots, but the paint solvent ate into the foamboard. While unexpected, this ended up giving it a nice, organic look. However, it also made the foam weak and the paint was easy to rub off. So I sprayed 2-3 coats of clear poly over both the foam and the pots; the former to strengthen it and prevent shedding and the latter to insure it was nonreactive with the soil. This gave everything a nice 'dirt' look.





Then on to the lighting. I ran the LED strips just under the top edging of the terrarium, out of sight from both above and below. This was hooked to a RF remote, and the power cord brought down the back corner and out a hole in the terrarium floor. There I hooked it into a smart plug. I may eventually paint this white wire dark brown, but I'm going for simple right now just to get things up and running; then I'll work on enhancements.

Meanwhile, I cut two pieces of plywood large enough to rest on the terrarium top shelf. I cut a hole in each, the first just larger than my grow light, and the next about 1" smaller in each direction. I screwed and glued these boards together, hit them with some white paint, and then set my grow light on top; it was a quickie job that doesn't look great by any means, but works for now. The grow light went into another smart plug.





Next Steps

So I think the finish line is in sight. From here I need to:

- Wait for the poly to dry and then get the foamboard into the terrarium, and the waterfall in place, filled, and running
- Wait for my sphagnum peat moss to come in and mix it with Perlite to fill the pots.
- Narrow down my list to 5 plants and order them in.
- Get the plants re-potted after delivery and put them in the terrarium, at which point I can…
- Start the light schedule running and begin watering and enjoying.
- Do a final post here with photos of how it all looks after coming together.

And it only took me half a decade to get there… :p
 
Joined
Apr 1, 2011
Messages
1,018
Location
San Antonio, Texas USA
I would not necessarily abandon the waterfall/circulating thing, but I would advise against using a bucket under the terrarium. In your first iteration with the pump and lines in the tank, if something comes loose, it feeds back into the tank, no harm no foul. Or at worse you scotch a pump. The other way, if something comes loose you get a big mess and run out of water.
 
Joined
Jun 20, 2003
Messages
185
Location
Pittsburgh, PA
So I finally have plants in my terrarium! :)

Since My Last Post

After the second coat of poly dried on everything I tested the waterfall. It worked great, but there was a bit of splashing which resulted in a puddle or two forming on the foam. Unfortunately, it looked like it was discoloring the paint a little bit, so I added another two thick coats of poly. Since then no issues with water damage.

I started monitoring humidity. The waterfall boosts it from around 35% to 60% over the course of an hour and a half. It drops back to 35% within a couple hours of the waterfall turning off. I've considered sealing the corners where the glass panels meet but am worried that will reduce airflow too much. For now I have the waterfall set to run several times per day, as often as possible.

The waterfall is louder than I expected. I added some stones I picked up at the dollar store, but it only helped a little. It can grate on me a bit, and I can't run it during work hours. I'm looking for a cheap sheet of acrylic I can place over the open top of the terrarium to cut down on noise and humidity loss. If I can't find one soon I'll just pay the $14 it costs on Amazon.

The grow light is extraordinarily bright so I had it set just to run at night. However, I tried it out today while the sun was pouring in the window and it wasn't terrible. And the color from it wasn't as offensive as I expected; kinda interesting really. Especially where it reflects off the top of the waterfall, which makes the water look like a rainbow. Still, I think I'm going to keep it running at night and just run the white lights during the day for now; it's still a little too bright for comfort and I also worry about if it could cause any vision damage over time.

I ordered four of the five plants and they just came in today. I got them re-potted and have full pots in the terrarium for the first time! I'm really happy with how it's all coming together.
















Yet To Do

I'm going to let things run for a couple weeks just to make sure everything is okay. I'd hate to do any decorating and then just have to tear it apart to fix the waterfall or something. After I'm comfortable with performance I'm going to get some fake moss to stick down the corners and around the waterfall. I also have a ton of 'minis' that I picked up at Michaels a couple years ago during a sale.

Also once I'm sure all the plants are growing happily, I'll set out on my quest to find somewhere to buy a D Scorpioides. Right now I'm planning to drop it dead center, but may trade places between it and my Sarr.

I still need to tuck some wires away, but again, I'll wait until I'm sure I don't need to tear everything apart. Same with removing the plant tags.


Thanks for reading. Comments welcome. :)
 

TheFury

Oh, the humanity!!
Joined
Oct 3, 2010
Messages
794
Location
Brooklyn, NY
That may indeed be a record for thread necromancy, but I'm glad you resurrected this one. Really cool seeing how it all worked out. Nice job! Keep the updates coming!
 
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